Tuesday, 3 June 2003

Islamabad (Fides Service) – There is disappointment and concern among the Christians in Pakistan since the Sharia Muslim law was introduced in the North West Frontier Province on the border with Afghanistan. This is the first time the strict code has been in force in Pakistan in the country’s history. Father Jacob Dogra, of the diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, which covers the whole Province told Fides Service: “We are in God’s hands. We are very concerned we never imagined that the bill would be approved by the legislative council. Some fundamentalist Muslim leaders in the region have been playing on the sentiments of the people. Now we must wait and see the consequences of the application of Sharia law for the Christian community”.
Islamabad-Rawalpindi diocese has a population of about 35 million including 250,000 Catholics many of whom are deeply committed in education, assistance, with schools of various grades and training institutes and hospitals. “Christians here live in peace – says Father Dogra. Except for a few sporadic episode of violence in the past, Christian work and live in harmony with Muslims, in an atmosphere here is friendship and dialogue. However, undoubtedly there are some fanatic groups determined to instigate religious hatred. We hope they do not succeed and we are working for this. The adoption of Sharia Law is of course a reason for concern. We must wait and see the reaction of the ordinary people. But we put everything with confidence in the hands of God”.
With a unanimous vote legislators on 2 June passed a Bill to introduce Sharia Law in North West Frontier Province which is dominated by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition of six Muslim parties which swept to power in October 2002, and is criticised by human rights groups who fear a re-run of the Taleban. NWF Province’s First Minister Akram Durrani has announced: “People who fail to observe Sharia Law will have no place in our Province”. Sharia Law applies harsh punishments such as amputation of a limb for stealing and stoning for adultery, moreover it enforces the compulsory study of the Muslim religion in schools.
The first reactions contrary to the Bill came from the civil society and moderate Muslim groups. In protest the Province’s 24 mayors, mostly Muslims, will resign, it was announced by Azam Afridi, mayor of Peshawar. Human rights groups fear most of all for the rights of women. Pervez Rafiq of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance comprised of Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. Has strongly criticised the move, he says “religion must not interfere with politics”.
Some organisations are considering an appeal to the Federal Court on the grounds that Sharia Law is contrary to Pakistan’s Constitution and the will of its Founder Ali Jinnah who established the country in 1947 as a secular state which guarantees the rights of religious minorities. Religious minorities in Pakistan recall 1999 when they led a successful campaign against the introduction of Sharia Law, and stopped the Federal parliament from approving an amendment to the Constitution which would have subjected to whole country to the Koran.
In Pakistan there are 3 million Christians (1,2 million Catholics) among a population of 140 million 96% Muslim. PA (Fides Service 3/6/2003 EM lines 45 Words: 510)